Despite all progress made so far in the 21st century in relation to technology and social organisiation, mental health is still one of the remaining taboos at the workplace. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health illnesses in Europe account for nearly 30-40% of chronic sick leave, affecting one in four people, and costing some 3% of GDP.
Today, the majority of employers understand and carry out their legal obligations to protect the physical health of their employees, by providing them with safety wear and equipment and also training them to manage the risks to their health effectively. However, when the focus turns to non-physical risks, employers and health and safety authorities tend to turn a blind eye.
HR, in particular, plays a crucial role in tackling the stigma surrounding mental health as well as supporting employees with such conditions. It is imperative for every organisation to create an open environment where employees feel comfortable disclosing their issues and conditions to their line managers without feeling that they may be jeopardising their career. HR personnel can be the first point of call for employees suffering from mental health problems. The next step would be for HR to direct employees towards proper mental health care professionals and to explain what internal provisions there are within the organisation.
Why should employers invest in their employees’ mental wellbeing? Research continuously proves that there is a direct link between mental health and performance. This means that if your employees are not in a good place mentally, they are probably not using their full potential to help the company move forward and exceed its targets. Stress, anxiety and depression are reported to be the most common contributors to poor performance and absenteeism at the workplace. By developing a safe and stigma-free culture and reducing the levels of stress in the workforce, employers will benefit from:
- Increased productivity and motivation
- Improved staff morale
- Lower absence due to sickness rates
- Lower staff turnover
So how can employers manage mental wellbeing at the workplace in order to benefit from the above? The answer is threefold:
1. Promoting mental health through various channels
Raising awareness is the first step towards normalising mental health and well-being. This can be achieved by:
Including mental health in induction and training - Kickstart your relationship with your new staff members by giving them an overview of how mental health is managed in your organisation and what kind of support you offer. Additionally, training sessions/workshops by industry professionals should be given to all current staff in order to educate them on the topic.
Inviting a speaker - Hearing someone’s first hand experience with mental health and how they manage to overcome their daily struggles can help break down negative stereotypes.
Creating a culture of openness and two-way communication - Checking up on your staff regularly to see how they’re coping and ensuring that communication is clear and effective in order to avoid unnecessary overload.
2. Tackling the causes of work-related mental health problems
There are various triggers of stress and mental health problems linked to the place of work, therefore it is vital for employers to routinely monitor their employees’ well-being. A few cost effective options could include:
Introducing flexible working hours and encouraging use of annual leave to allow staff to manage other activities outside of work, and to ensure they are getting the time off they require.
Utilising a buddy system to help employees develop their skills by having a mentor who is outside of the line management structure and can offer relatable peer support.
Providing managers with training on mental health and stress management in order to learn how to spot the signs of struggling staff and how to deal with these sensitive situations.
Holding regular one-to-ones to boost employee engagement and identify issues early on so that employees get the support they need.
Improving the physical work environment by consulting staff to see whether their physical work space is suitable enough for them to work in.
3. Supporting staff who are experiencing existing problems
Once you’ve created an open dialogue with your employee about the status of their mental health, the next step is to address the main issues they’re struggling with. This can be done through:
Providing on-the-job support by making necessary adjustments to accommodate the employee's needs and providing additional help through increased supervision, coaching and more positive feedback.
Developing a personal action plan ahead of time which is tailor-made for each individual and that will be useful for employees when they are not coping too well.
Signposting external forms of support by being informed of all the local services that are available and referring employees accordingly.
Promoting mental well-being and directly targeting stress triggers is an effective way to pre-empt mental health problems in the workplace. However, supporting staff who are already battling existing issues is key to effectively and dramatically destigmatize mental health and the misconception surrounding it which unfortunately still lingers in today’s society.
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